Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Vice President Alex Castro and former Director of Governmental Relations Dean Williams have filed a writ of certiorari before the SGC-MMC Supreme Court upon a grievance asking for the removal of appointed President Laura Fariñas and Senator Vanessa Martinez due to charges of nonfeasance,misfeasance and malfeasance of duties. Specifically the charges surround the circumstances regarding the position of the Comptroller, previously held by Valeria Espina. Espina resigned in unclear circumstances last November, and the position had remained vacant until recently.
In an email sent Friday February 15 at 4:58pm to Chief Justice Sebastian Larrazabal, Castro submitted the writ along with documentation supporting his case against Fariñas and Senator Martinez, in her role as chair of the Senate’s Internal Affairs Committee.
The case against Fariñas and Martinez focuses first on the management of Activity & Service fee funds upon the absence of the comptroller, based on several provisions from the Student Government Association Finance Code. Among the claims are allegations of failure to follow proper procedures for the approval of budgets for each line item in the current A&S fee budget, failure to follow proper procedures for the disbursements of A&S fee funds, failure to report on the status of the government’s finances, failure to provide the legally mandated seminars to student organizations on A&S fee fund management among others. Combined, Castro and Williams present 8 violations of Florida Law, SGA’s Constitution, SGA’s Finance Code and the SGC-MMC Statutes.
For Fariñas, the nature of the allegations stems from the absence of a Comptroller, and an alleged failure on her behalf to ensure the proper following of the several provisions of law. The petitioners stipulate that taken together, all violations constitute mismanagement of A&S fee funds, one of the main roles of the Student Government Association. Based on these allegations, Fariñas removal from office is requested based on what the petitioners see if the necessary and requisite foundation of several acts of nonfeasance, misfeasance and malfeasance committed by the president. In Martinez’ case, the allegations stem from her alleged failure to appropriately hold the executive branch of the government accountable, in regards to having public documents readily accessible. In the supporting documentation submitted by Castro is a chain of emails between him and Martinez, in which Castro requests a series of documents. After requesting a time extension Martinez replied and sent part of the documents requested. The missing documents form part of the claim against Martinez, in what is described as “failing to maintain adequate public records.”
Should the court grant certiorari and hear the case, Fariñas and Martinez would have to present evidence of their compliance with the reference laws, which would amount to proof that they followed all proper procedures as legally required, if such documents exist.
The 17 page writ is accompanied by a 37 page pdf file of evidence compiled by the petitioners which includes emails requesting public records, emails between Castro and Fariñas, Senate compliance documents, Council for Student Organizations agendas and minutes, as well as several expenditure forms showing the lack of the Comptroller’s (or President’s) signature.
As part of the documents, there are several tense email exchanges between Castro and Fariñas, with the vice president claiming three attempts to get the president to assign him official duties in the administration. The at times awkward exchanges go in line with what has been perceived mid-Fall semester as the fall out between the two former running mates, through a series of events including Fariñas efforts against Castro’s scholarship proposal, as well as Fariñas’ firing of her former campaign manager and former chief of staff Philip Koenig.
The evidence presents a stark picture in terms of the day to day administration of the Activity & Service fee fund in the offices of the Student Government Association. While the usage and expenditure of the fund is monitored by Campus Life Advisers as well as by the Activity & Service Business Office of the Division of Student Affairs, these two entities tend to overlook SGA law and focus on university regulations. Should the allegations bear true, it would imply that proper records are not being kept, student funds are being disbursed without the proper signatures, and there aren’t proper accountability mechanisms in place.
ON THE COMPTROLLER
The issues surrounding the comptroller position started back in November 2012 following the resignation of Espina. Sources tell Pawlitics that the resignation happened quietly and an official announcement did not happen for weeks. During this period of vacancy, Pawlitics was unable to find any evidence of the executive branch promoting the vacancy through its website. On its Facebook page there is one post from January 9, 2013 alluding to open positions, but as publishing time the link provided did not list any positions and had been presumably changed since then. When asked if the vacant position had been promoted, Castro responded by saying that “the applications were not well promoted because the position is being used as a political weapon by the President.”
This response was prompted following the rejected nomination of Daniel Gomez as Comptroller during the January 21, 2013 Senate meeting. Gomez was Fariñas’ choice for the position out of a total 4 possible applicants. The Senate however decided to reject the nomination. Senate Speaker Giovanni Castro for instance told Pawlitics he believed “that the senate wanted someone a bit more qualified due to the closeness towards budget dates.” Gomez had previously served a brief stint on Fariñas cabinet as head of Panther Rage, the spirit group. Following Gomez’ rejection by the Senate, Fariñas nominated her then Chief of Staff Freddy Juarez, who was afterward promptly confirmed by the Senate. Juarez is not mentioned and is not a part of the writ brought on by Castro and Williams.
These incidents confirm the tension inside the Fariñas administration which has come to light during Senate meetings with public disagreements between the president and the vice president, a stark difference from just a few months earlier when Fariñas and Castro ran on the same ticket through the scandal plagued 2012 SGA Elections.
The grievance as filed, extensively covers all possible contention points, and seems to go beyond that by including issues such as the possible consequences of a ruling in favor of the petitioners and the involvement of the new FIUnited party of which Castro is a presumptive presidential candidate, and Williams its founding chairman. Should the court side with the petitioners and remove Fariñas, Castro, per Article IV Section 5 of the SGA Constitution, would assume the presidency and have the subsequent power of appointing a Vice President. Another topic covered in the grievance is the extent to which Castro himself could be held liable of the accusations being made, seemingly to preempt any argument made by the defendants. Castro and Williams content that as Vice President, Castro has fulfilled all of his constitutional and legal responsibilities, and even requested to assist with the issues at hand but was rebuffed.
The writ of certiorari also argues against the possibility of having the Campus Life advisers being implicated in any mismanagement of the A&S fee fund. They argue that for the advisers to fulfill their role, the President and the other appropriate officials must have fulfilled their respective responsibilities before the blame could be shifted elsewhere. The inclusion of such an argument is peculiar, since as university employees outside of the Student Government Association, the Supreme Court would lack jurisdiction over the advisers.
Whether the advisers would take part in a hearing of this case is unclear since the court has not indicated whether it will hear the case.
RECUSAL OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE
The petitioners also make a special request for the recusal of the Chief Justice based on two factors, namely their doubt that he could be impartial and what the petitioners deem as the “general failure to ensure the proper administration and operation of the Court.” The impartiality doubts stem from the fact that in Fall of 2012 a writ was filed against Martinez, and the court denied certiorari, refusing to hear the case, a decision the petitioners contend was wrong, and may have been due to what they call a social greek relationship between Martinez and Larrazabal. An online search shows that Larrazabal is what is known in greek circles as Martinez’ “big brother”, which is “an active member of a fraternity or sorority who serves as a mentor to a new member, guiding him or her through the new member program and initiation.” The second charge against Larrazabal is then based on the fact that Castro had previously submitted a writ of certiorari which did not receive a response from the court within the legally established period. Whether the court will accept this request is unknown until they respond to the writ itself.
The writ is completed with a series of requests, including one for a subpoena of records, that seeks to ensure the availability of all relevant evidence. Castro and Williams explain that the request is made because of their uncertainty, despite their best efforts, that all documents were made available to them.
As of publishing time, there is no response from the court, which according to SGC-MMC Statutes, must respond within 10 days to the petitioners. Once that occurs, and if the court grants certiorari, a hearing date would be set in which the petitioners would present their case and evidence, and the defendants, Fariñas and Martinez would also do the same.
The court’s ruling could have a significant effect on the 2013 SGA Presidential race, with Castro already a declared contender, and Martinez mentioned as a possible adversary. An adverse ruling could also put a halt to the 2013-2014 budget approval hearings, currently underway.
If heard, this would be the Supreme Court’s first case this term, one that could significantly alter the political landscape in the upcoming elections, a possibility that seems to be becoming the norm at FIU.